In March, an unlikely group of men and women in suits gathered to announce the creation of a new organization designed to watch over the business of fracking. Made up of representatives from industry players, regulators and protectionist groups, the Center for Sustainable Shale Development offers a promise of collaboration rarely seen in the drilling business.

The CSSD will serve a specific purpose by certifying drilling facilities on its own series of requirements, agreed upon by each of the groups that had a hand in its creation. The hope is that by establishing this entity as a third-party group, the drilling certification it awards will be both rigorous and fair on all fronts.

What is fracking?

The hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, is what has driven the recent boom in domestic natural gas production in many areas of the United States. The process has been developed over the past 20 years by the energy industry as a way to access previously untapped fossil fuel resources.

The process of fracking involves drilling a well, then injecting a mixture of water, chemicals and solid proppants deep into the surface of the earth. The pressure created fractures the surrounding rock formations, releasing oil or natural gas.

While the process of fracking has been widely embraced by industry players, many regulators and environmentalist groups have taken issue with the practice, citing that its effects on the environment are still insufficiently studied. There have been highly contested accounts of polluted water tables and other impacts fracking has had on the well-being of people and animals around wells across the country.

The creation of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development was inspired in part by the controversy surrounding the process of fracking as a whole. The organization can perhaps be best summed up as an attempt to bring together the contentious groups involved with this controversial drilling practice.

Who will be at the helm?

When the creation of the CSSD was announced, so were the chartering board members. The organization will be based in Pittsburgh and headed by Andrew G. Place until a formal director is chosen. Place is an industry representative employed with EQT Corporation, a natural gas producer.

Board members include a former governor of New Jersey who is also a former director of the EPA, a former president of Carnegie Mellon University and a former associate director of energy and environment for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. The board will be chaired by Paul H. O'Neill, a former U.S. Treasury secretary under George W. Bush. Each of the board members brings a level of expertise from one area of the controversial world of fracking, and hopefully the certification they will collectively bestow upon drilling sites will live up to the hype of actually being an unbiased and honest assessment.

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